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26 Aug, 2021
10 minutes

Fireworks Night: A Guide to A Medieval Tradition

To other cultures around the world, the English tradition of building a great bonfire on Fireworks Day (complete with a human effigy on top), and setting the whole thing alight complete with fireworks sounds a little savage!

The history of November the 5th is just as exciting as people might hope. A foiled gunpowder plot led to the capture of one of the most famous criminals in British history. The event was such that to this day, 416 years later, the entire country comes together to celebrate the saving of parliament. So what is the history behind the fireworks display 5th November celebrations?

What was the Gunpowder Plot?

Guy Fawkes (source: Wikipedia)

In the year 1605, Henry VIII was on the throne. In order to make divorce possible, Henry VIII forced the country to reform from Catholicism to the new Church of England. This created a huge conflict between the Catholics and Protestants across the country.

Although the citizens of England were told to give up their Catholic practices and beliefs, some devoutly Catholic people held on to the Church and wanted the freedom to practice their religion of choice. When James I took the throne, he was even less tolerant of Catholics, leading to further unrest among those already dissatisfied with the government.

The ring leader of the gunpowder plot was not in fact Guy Fawkes but Robert Catesby. Catesby forms a plot to kill the king and the members of parliament by blowing up the House of Lords during the State Opening of Parliament, the only time all of these high-power leaders would be in one place at once. The long term goal of this plan would be to put the 9-year-old princess on the throne as a puppet for Catholicism to take hold again.

Catesby put together a team of expert conspirators to carry out this mission, among them Guy Fawkes. Fawkes was a Yorkshire man. While fighting for the Spanish, Fawkes had become an expert in warfare, both influential and charismatic. Due to his extensive knowledge in the area, he was put in charge of the explosives.

The group set to work digging a tunnel beneath the streets of London towards the House of Lords. They were able to hide the barrels of gunpowder in a disused cellar. Fawkes deemed two and a half tonnes of gunpowder sufficient to do the deed.

While the conspirators waited for the right moment to blow up the gunpowder, a member of parliament received an anonymous tip-off telling them to ‘lay low’ on November the 5th. The group eventually found out about the tip-off but they couldn’t back out now and had to hope they would have time to complete their mission and escape. This tip-off eventually made its way to the king, who ordered his guards to investigate the tunnels beneath the House of Lords. This is where they found Guy Fawkes waiting to ignite the gunpowder barrels. The plan was foiled at the very last minute.

Fawkes went quietly and was honest about his intentions, but he wouldn’t give up his co-conspirators. Because of this, he was tortured for two days until he revealed the names of the others in his groups. All the men were captured and executed publicly for their crimes. Each man was condemned to be hung, drawn and quartered to extend their suffering. Guy Fawkes was the only man who was able to upstage his execution by throwing himself from the gallows before the punishment could begin.

Firework Night Traditions

Food and drink

Traditionally, people will eat sweet treats and warm, comforting foods on Firework Night to combat the chilly air outside. Fireworks Night UK foods include toffee apples and treacle tart or Parkin, a type of dense treacle cake. Baked potatoes are also a favourite of Guy Fawkes night fireworks celebrations and, later, hot dogs.

Remember Remember…

Do you ever hear of Fireworks Night being called the 3rd November fireworks? Probably not! Does the poem Remember, Remember the 5th of November’ come to mind? The famous poem was originally written by John Milton in 1626 as a celebration of the anniversary of the day the Gunpowder Plot was foiled and a reminder of the origin of the fireworks Guy Fawkes Night produces.

Remember, remember!

The fifth of November,

The Gunpowder treason and plot;

I know of no reason

Why the Gunpowder treason

Should ever be forgot!

Guy Fawkes and his companions

Did the scheme contrive,

To blow the King and Parliament

All up alive.

Threescore barrels, laid below,

To prove old England's overthrow.

But, by God's providence, him they catch,

With a dark lantern, lighting a match!

A stick and a stake

For King James's sake!

If you won't give me one,

I'll take two,

The better for me,

And the worse for you.

A rope, a rope, to hang the Pope,

A penn'orth of cheese to choke him,

A pint of beer to wash it down,

And a jolly good fire to burn him.

Holloa, boys! holloa, boys! make the bells ring!

Holloa, boys! holloa boys! God save the King!

Hip, hip, hooor-r-r-ray!

Celebrations

Fireworks Night wouldn’t be complete without a bonfire and fireworks of course! Parks across the UK can be found glowing with a giant bonfire before rounds of rockets, mines, and fountains go off. Normally a dummy made to look like Guy Fawkes and stuffed with straw or newspaper is positioned on top of the bonfire as a symbol of triumph over the Gunpowder Plot.

Where public parks are used to celebrate Bonfire Night you might see a funfair set up with rides and stalls selling food and drinks. Guy Fawkes fireworks events might also include performers such as dancers, fire breathers, and acrobats.

Usually, Bonfire Night fireworks are a mixture of traditional shots like Roman candles and Catherine wheels, and more modern designs that stun audiences. Whether it’s a community park or recreational space, or a tiny private garden, there will be a fireworks display 5th November night. Here are some fireworks we recommend for every firework display.

Rockets

Classic fireworks that shoot up into the sky and explode in an arc of colour and light. No Fireworks Night display is complete without at least one rocket.

Meteor Rocket

Catherine Wheels

A favourite firework since the earliest fireworks came to the UK, a Catherine wheel will spin when ignited, producing a brilliant circular light show from its stationary position nailed to a pole.

Super Spinners

Roman Candles

Another traditional firework, the popularity of the Roman candle hasn’t wavered. From its position on the ground, a Roman candle launches multiple shots high into the sky producing a tail of light and colour.

Hong Kong Candles Silver Comet

Compound Fireworks

Compound fireworks are designed to take the hassle out of choosing and setting up your firework display. With several different shots included, a compound firework only needs to be lit once.

Pyroclastic Storm Compound

Sparklers

Sparklers are a favourite among Fireworks Day UK children and adults, where everyone can take part in the firework display. Hand out sparklers to your guests to let them enjoy a mini firework close up.

Low Noise Fireworks

For those who want a firework display but who live in a heavily residential area, or who have pets who hate fireworks, where noise would be a problem, low noise fireworks are the solution. These quiet fireworks offer the same visual effects but at quieter levels to keep everyone happy. Find out what to expect from low noise fireworks.

MLE20-49S30-5 Wave King Crackling Horse Tails

Garden F2 Fireworks

Fireworks are split into different firework categories based on the safe distance that has to be maintained to view them. F2 fireworks are those that can be safely viewed from a distance of eight to 15 metres and are generally accepted as safe for most gardens.

The Asylum Barrage Pack

Many people don’t have ample space to set off fireworks on their own property, or they might simply want to enjoy a larger-scale celebration with others in the community. Fireworks 5th November events are well promoted and easy to find online. A search of ‘5th November fireworks near me’ will usually be enough to find out about events in your area online. Most news websites will cover upcoming celebrations and a quick search of tourist information websites in any area will show up fireworks events. We cover all of the different ways you can find out about a firework display in our blog Why are There Fireworks Tonight?

The 5 November fireworks London has to offer will give you a huge choice of different parties if you’re living in, or visiting the South East. Be sure to check Time Out, What’s On London, and Design my Night to get up to speed with fireworks 5 November London performances, events, and parties.

Where Else is Firework Night Celebrated?

Fireworks Night is celebrated across the UK and in some parts of non-Catholic Northern Ireland with November fireworks and bonfires. Some countries in the British Commonwealth may also celebrate 5th November Fireworks Night. Some provinces in Canada are known to celebrate with fireworks and bonfires on the date, and it is also officially a celebration in South Africa.

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